Composer, Writer, Percussionist Barrett Martin Goes Lean & Multi-Instrumental on “Stillpoint” (ALBUM REVIEW)

Stillpoint is the multi-talented Barrett Martin’s tenth release and is at first glance quite different than his large ensemble offerings – 2018’s Transcendence, 2019’s Song of the Firebird, and 2020’s Scattered Diamonds; the latter two that we covered on these pages. Yet, closer inspection reveals both lean and broad sounds and similar multi-cultural rhythm patterns from Martin and bright tones from his go-to trumpeter Dave Carter. Like two other albums from the prolific Martin, it can serve as a standalone album or a companion for his third set of short stories – Stillpoint: Reflections From A Year On The Cliff.

Both the book and the album were written and recorded between 2019-2020, when Barrett and his wife lived in a remote cliff house inside a wildlife refuge overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Washington State and British Columbia. It’s a region where Barrett grew up and locals refer to as Cascadia, a wild and dramatic place with fierce storms, enchanting forests, and magical animals that inspire the songs from the album, and the stories in the book.

Due to the remote location of the house, Barrett had to engineer, record, and play most of the instruments himself. It is also the first all-acoustic album he has ever produced (from a discography of 130 albums and soundtracks), using no electric or amplified instruments. Martin plays piano, upright bass, vibraphone, drums, and various percussion instruments, as well as using his own voice as a harmonic instrument resulting in an oft mysterious vibe but with many majestic, uplifting overtones that would naturally imbue the music, given the special experience of living in a wildlife refuge on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. In addition to Carter’s beautiful trumpet solos, Barrett’s wife, Lisette Garcia, contributed additional percussion. Here is the complete listing: Barrett Martin – (Drums, Voice, Upright Bass, Piano, Vibraphone, Marimba, Steel Drum, African, Brazilian, and Cuban Drums, Mbira, Kalimba, Gamelans, Gongs) – Dave Carter – (Open & Muted Trumpet) – Lisette Garcia – (Shakers, Brazilian Surdo Drum, Gamelans).

As we’ve chronicled before Martin is not only an environmentalist but a well-rounded ethnomusicologist who is steeped in the knowledge of indigenous peoples and cultures, hence the various percussion instruments at play here.  Each of these tracks take on even more meaning when paired with their titles. We hear the drums, cymbals and percussion conjure the swell of waves in the opening “Roar of the Sea,” the swinging jazz of piano, vibes, percussion and Carter’s stirring trumpet in “Juan’s Strait Swing,” and the urgent driving plea, buoyed by Carter’s blaring layers of trumpets in “Please Come Back, She Said to the Sun.”  And those are just the first three tracks. 

One can form one’s own imagery in such vibrant titles as “Eagle vs. Raven,” “Yellow Striped Spirit Snake,” “Fierce Hawk,” and “Rainshadow” to name just a few.  Martin’s adept sense of rhythm is on prime display in “The Elegance of the Wind” as just one example.  Carter shines throughout but plays especially gracefully on “Eagle Vs. Raven” and appropriately heatedly in the dramatic “Fierce Hawk.”  This colorful, highly textured work ends with the spare, final sounding “To The Sea We Return.”

Martin’s fully developed vision as Stillpoint is conceived as both a written philosophy and a sonic adventure into the relatively untrampled wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.  Speaking of just the image inducing qualities of the sonic part, the reading beckons.

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